Thu, May 12, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Sprinters’ verdicts allow Greece a chance to move on

Reuters, ATHENS

The guilty verdicts handed to former sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou on Tuesday finally offered Greece the chance to close an unsavory chapter in the country’s sporting history.

The two Sydney 2000 Olympic sprint medalists received suspended jail sentences for perjury, seven years after the Athens Games where they were accused of staging a motorcycle crash to avoid a drugs test.

Kenteris, 37 and Thanou, 36, were sentenced to 31 months in jail each, while their coach Christos Tzekos received a 33-month sentence for his involvement as the much-delayed trial finally came to a conclusion.

“My hope for the future is that we can prevent or avoid this kind of things from happening, especially regarding the doping side of things,” said Vasilis Sevatis, president of the Greek Athletics Federation. “We are continuously fighting this issue, but for me the greater responsibility for this lies with the athletes themselves. They must reject it categorically.”

All three have exercised their right to appeal the sentences and to try to translate their jail terms into financial penalties, with court officials saying the appeals will be heard within 10 days.

“It was certainly one of the most difficult moments of my tenure,” Sevatis added, recalling the events on the eve of the Athens Games. “When I think about those moments I don’t have nice feelings at all. I often wonder if I could have done something different to try to avoid what happened.”

After four years of delays, the trial finally began in January, a year before the statute of limitations on their charges would have ran out.

Former marathon runner and Greek record holder Maria Polyzou is now an ambassador for Greek sport and a member of the organizing committee for the Athens Classic Marathon.

“I think the important thing is that everything has been put in order and the truth has come out so people can now get on with their lives,” Polyzou said.

“The strongest feeling I have is relief. Those events had a very negative impact on the Athens Olympics from the point of view of Greeks and the world and the whole affair has not been kind to Greek sport,” she said. “Hopefully the verdict offers a chance for closure in what has been a harmful episode for sport in this country.”

The saga, which cast a huge cloud over the Games for the Greek hosts and ruined the careers of the two athletes, was the biggest Olympic doping scandal since Canadian Ben Johnson lost his 100m gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Games.

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